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Gene May Boost Parkinson's Before Age 50

Gene Mutations Linked to Early Onset of Parkinson's Disease
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Sept. 17, 2007 -- Scientists have a new gene clue about why some people develop Parkinson's disease before age 50.

Researchers report that certain mutations in the GBA gene are linked to the early onset of Parkinson's disease.

That doesn't mean that everyone with those mutations develops Parkinson's disease, or that everyone with Parkinson's disease has those gene mutations.

But the findings do suggest that those mutations "may modify age at onset" of Parkinson's disease for some patients, write Columbia University's Lorraine Clark, PhD, and colleagues.

Clark's team analyzed the GBA gene in 278 Parkinson's patients and 179 people without Parkinson's disease.

The group included 90 people who developed Parkinson's disease before age 50. Parkinson's disease typically starts later in life.

Overall, nearly 14% of the Parkinson's patients had any of nine GBA mutations, compared with about 5% of those without Parkinson's disease.

Among Parkinson's patients, about 22% of those who developed Parkinson's at or before age 50 had mutations in their GBA gene.

In comparison, roughly 10% of those who developed Parkinson's disease after 50 had GBA mutations.

The study also links the GBA mutations to people of Jewish ancestry.

Previous studies have shown that another GBA-related condition called Gaucher disease is "one of the most common genetic diseases reported in the Ashkenazi Jewish population," Clark's team writes.

Clark and colleagues didn't ask their study participants if they were specifically of Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry, but the researchers note that "approximately 90% of Jews in the United States are Ashkenazi."

The GBA mutations were more common in Parkinson's patients of Jewish ancestry (defined by Clark and colleagues as having four Jewish grandparents).

About 17% of Parkinson's patients of Jewish ancestry had those GBA mutations, compared with 8% of Jewish participants without Parkinson's disease.

The findings appear in the journal Neurology.

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